Seeds of Hope

A long-shot trip to Africa results in new gardens, food, and goodwill for African orphanages.

Vegetable garden at Kabwata Orphanage

The vegetable garden at the Kabwata Orphanage is Lusaka, Zambia, in it's beginning stages.

Photo Courtesy www.RareSeeds.com

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Our African story begins in Zambia with a boy named Gift Simuzazu. Gift’s parents died of AIDS when he was young. He was sent to live with his uncle’s family in a nearby village where he was abused. At the age of 12, he borrowed his uncle’s bicycle and accidentally broke it. His uncle locked him in a hut, and later that evening, set it on fire. Gift was burned on more than 70 percent of his body. Angela Miyanda, director of Kabwata Orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia, then became Gift’s new family, and the orphanage his new home.

In May 2009, with the help of The Alkare Foundation (www.alkare.org), Gift was able to come to Santa Rosa, California, to live with the Afman family — Kirk, Renee, and their twin teenagers, Karla and Garrit — while being treated at Shriner’s Hospital in Sacramento. Fifteen months and five surgeries later, Gift was restored in both body and spirit, and ready to go back to the Kabwata Orphanage in Zambia.

Renee and her daughter, Karla, escorted Gift home and stayed at the orphanage for two weeks. They experienced life in the orphanage and met children who were full of life, love, and energy! The children understood the importance of being able to provide for themselves and their future families and were eager to learn.

A Seed is Planted

After hearing Renee’s account of her experience in Africa, Gwen began thinking. The vegetable seeds from Baker Creek need to be in the hands of these children, along with someone who can share their knowledge and experience growing vegetables. Combining over 40 years of experience and horticultural knowledge, we — Renee and I — could share this knowledge, which includes all phases of seeding, growing, soil building, maintenance, harvesting, and most importantly, saving seeds.

But first things first … how could we raise more than $5,000 just for airfare alone? Fundraising! After selling hundreds of vegetable starts at The Seed Bank in Petaluma, California, pruning hundreds of roses and fruit trees, and with the gracious donations from friends, family, and many churches, we succeeded in raising our airfare, plus enough money to buy an irrigation system, soil amendments, and garden tools for Kabwata Orphanage’s vegetable garden. With vegetable seeds in hand that we knew would do well in Zambia and Uganda, donated by Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, on June 11, 2012, we were on a plane headed to Zambia.

Team Work

Once on the continent, our biggest worry was getting the seeds through customs. With a lot of praying, we succeeded. First we stayed at Kabwata Orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia, that was home to more than 60 children ranging in ages from infancy to 22 years old. All were eager to get started sowing and planting in the garden, and their enthusiasm was overwhelming. Their eyes lit up when they saw the variety of seeds they would be sowing and the beautiful photographs in the catalog. Their sense of ownership in their garden was deeper than we could have ever imagined.

All the children took responsibility in one aspect or another in regards to working in the garden; some of them worked barefooted and dug in the soil with their bare hands. The young boys turned over the soil using nothing but a broken rake and spade to make long, rectangular planting beds. Chicken manure was added and mixed in.

Refreshingly, there was no pouting, no dragging of feet, and no worries that one was working harder or more than another. There was genuine teamwork going on! “They’ll be singing, they’ll be dancing, they’ll be victory!”, was one of the verses of a song that the children sang for us while working in the garden. The ground shook with their singing as they all eagerly worked in the garden.

The next two weeks' time was spent preparing and planting their vegetable garden. It was their garden that they were planting and they were proud and excited, knowing that in a few months, they would be harvesting and eating what they sowed. Money we raised was used to purchase the irrigation system, a holding tank, and its stand. By the time we were ready to leave, it was installed and ready to water the garden. No more hand watering with broken, old watering jugs!

Variety of Diet

The smell of smoke and something cooking was coming from just around the corner from the garden. Nshima (made from corn meal) was simmering in a large pot over a fire. This is where and how they cooked. They don’t have much of a variety in their diet. Nshima is their staple food that is served everyday, and occasionally, rice is substituted. Beans for protein, and meat or fish is a treat when they receive it. By growing their own vegetables, it adds variety and nutrition to their diet and the satisfaction of knowing they grew their food.

Uganda Bound

Onward to Uganda. Again, thanks to divine intervention, we had no trouble getting the seeds through customs. Our friend Edith, a Ugandan living near us in California, made arrangements for us to stay with her friend Precious Magezi and her husband Joshua, their four children, and nine others in need of shelter, outside the city of Kampala, deep in the heart of the jungle. We learned that the Magezi’s mission is to help those in need. With the house still under construction, there was no running water yet; this meant no functional toilet, no sink, and no shower. It was necessary for us to sleep under mosquito netting because of the malaria-carrying mosquitos.

The first orphanage we visited in Uganda was Wakiso Children’s School of Hope in a remote village outside Kampala. It was built on a 10-acre property owned by Precious’s family more than 15 years ago. One step at a time, or one brick at a time, each building was slowly erected. There was a school, church, clinic, and dormitories where more than 200 children live. The children are not called orphans, nor do they call it an orphanage. They call it a “village,” and the children are simply called children.

They already had healthy, beautiful-looking beans, cabbage, corn (maize), and squashes growing in their garden. The workers were very familiar with saving seeds because that’s how they’re able to grow what they grow every year … by saving their own seeds. We gave them the Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds catalog and a variety of vegetable seeds and just stood back and watched their faces light up as they looked at each packet in amazement. They couldn’t have been more thankful!

Back at Precious’s home, her mother was making matooke (green bananas wrapped in banana leaves, steamed until tender, and then mashed), their staple food, for dinner. Mom wanted us to try it. It did in fact taste like a very green, unripe banana. We gave Mom a few packets of seeds for her garden and she was overwhelmed with joy. It was important for her that we understood the impact these seeds would have on their lives and the opportunity for them to share with others.

Pearl of Africa

We left Kampala for Jinja, and traveled to “Our Own Home” (www.africaourownhome.org), a 4-acre refuge for 50+ orphans ranging from infancy to 15 years old, living with HIV/AIDS. William (daddy) and Holly (mommy) are the directors and caregivers at this orphanage, and greeted us with big smiles. They had just moved to this location, in the middle of the jungle, about five weeks before. The missionary house and the dormitory for the children were constructed of terra-cotta-colored stucco and rock; wood is never used as they tell us the termites will eat a wood house down in a day. Their goal is to construct their own campus that would include a clinic and school.

William was especially anxious to show us where he cleared out an area close to their house and planted some vegetables. The soil is so fertile in Uganda that they call it “The Pearl of Africa.” We gave William and Holly the Baker Creek catalog along with a variety of vegetable seed packets for them to grow. Seeds and starts are almost nonexistent; when they do come across them, they’re very expensive and there isn’t much of a selection.

The children gathered around Holly as she showed them the seeds they would be planting and then one day, harvesting and eating the bounty. Their smiles grew wide as they were able to hold a packet of seeds and their eyes widened as they turned the pages of the seed catalog and were introduced to the vast variety of all the vegetables.

Hope for Orphans

The next day, we traveled to another remote area outside of Mityana, which is home to HOPE Center Uganda (Helping Orphans and Prodigals to Eternity; www.hopecenteruganda.org). Randy and Angie Goering and their five children visited Uganda in 2005, fell in love with its people and children, especially the children who were abandoned and/or orphaned. In 2011, the family moved from Grand Junction, Colorado, to Mityana, Uganda, and opened The HOPE Center Uganda Orphanage.

This orphanage was organized for charitable and religious purposes to aid the orphans, street children and widows of Uganda through education, nutrition, boarding and fostering. Through sponsorship, every child at the Center is given the proper schooling, wholesome meals, and opportunities to receive medication as needed, as well as a safe place to live.

Mityana is 90 percent rural and 70 percent of the population are subsistence farmers. More than 50 percent of the population are children, and a high percentage of them are malnourished. More than 50 percent of the population does not have access to any medical care and the life expectancy is 42 years; mortality rates are highest among the children.

Much had been done in the short amount of time the Goerings were there. They were able to purchase 3 acres of land in a small village called Tamu, close to Mityana. Money was donated to purchase this land in which they will build a pharmacy, buildings for storage, and most importantly, a clinic to provide medical care for the orphanage and local villagers. They wish to bring hope for a very oppressed area in deep poverty that puts these children more at risk, and to provide a source of income for the locals by providing jobs.

The land will also be the future site of their orphanage and their vegetable garden. The seeds that we brought to this orphanage will not only be used to nourish the children, but shared with the whole village community.

Our trip lasted just short of a month and we distributed Baker Creek’s vegetable seeds to one orphanage in Lusaka, Zambia; and three orphanages in Kampala, Jinja, and Mityana in Uganda. We know that the simple act of sharing seeds will leave such an impact that will never be forgotten. We were able to bring seeds that would nourish both the bodies and spirits of orphans, and brought hope to hungry people, teaching and equipping them to feed themselves.

It was an experience we will never forget!


Renee Afman is a horticulturist who has been gardening in Sonoma County for more than 30 years. She has her own 1-acre organic garden and works at Cottage Gardens in Petaluma.

Gwen Kilchherr is a horticulturist with many years of experience, a Master Gardener, writes a Q&A garden column for the local newspaper, The Press Democrat, and runs her own CSA.